Fuel Spill Problems Reach Hilton Head

It seemed like a small spill at the time, but a ship leaking fuel off Tybee Island last week now has oil-covered birds turning up on Hilton Head Island. There has yet to be any oil on shore, but a few birds are being affected and being found on South Carolina beaches.

The waves crashing on Hilton Head beaches may look fine, but they've carried in several casualties of the Fortune Epoch oil spill.

"They can't fly," said Daleen Deswart with the Coastal Veterinary Clinic. "If they can't fly, they're going to be attacked by predators. They can't hunt, they can't find food, so obviously they're going to starve."

The Coastal Veterinary Clinic has taken in one of those birds already, a comoran that the doctors have already treated and released. "He was hungry," said Deswart. "He was stressed and he was hungry, but he did really fine. He was released successfully."

The US Coast Guard says they appreciate the gesture, but from now on, they're urging people who find birds covered with oil to call the Coast Guard for help instead so they can keep an accurate count. Veterinarians and Coast Guard officials both say it's important that people don't touch the birds without proper training.

"You've got to handle them properly because they're pretty big, and when they get you it really hurts," said Deswart. "I mean they go for the eyes, so you got to know what you're doing. But I think in the end, they know that you're trying to help them."

Coast Guard officials say there could easily be more birds washing ashore. If you find one, call them immediately.

Reported by: Chris Cowperthwaite, ccowperthwaite@wtoc.com